Preview: Phoenix Suns (7-9) at Toronto Raptors (3-13)

Posted by on November 30th, 12:00 pm

Toronto Raptors 101, Phoenix Suns 97

Suns

Raptors

Raptors

If Wednesday’s loss to Detroit was any indication, the Phoenix Suns have reached their first critical turning point this season. When in the past they’d rely upon the typical code of a young team — “improvement,” “learning to play with one another” and “building” all part of the lingo — that verbiage now goes out the window.

Alvin Gentry lost his team for the first time — at least, for the time being.

Friday’s game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre will be watched by the Gentry critics closely. The Raptors’ six-game losing streak and Phoenix’s seven-game winning streak against them in Toronto means little.

Long has it been known that Phoenix was susceptible to lose to any team in the NBA, but losing to a then-four-win team and by 40 points showed just how badly the Suns look when everything goes wrong. Now, it’s on the head coach to bring his troubled team back together, though Phoenix’s veteran leaders certainly must take matters into their own hands as well. Paul Coro’s article that touches on the leadership is spot on in asking if the Suns’ veterans have earned the respect in the locker room.

“Our professionalism has to be better,” Jermaine O’Neal told Coro. “I don’t know if we understand the importance of every game. As soon as we understand that and stop being so cool as a team, we’ll be a better team. We have enough talent to win. You’re going to have duds. The biggest thing you look for is ‘How do we rebound?’”

“Cool” is a fine word to label the Suns’ younger players, perhaps outside of Goran Dragic, who has recently experienced some tough outings as defenses have keyed on stopping him.

It doesn’t help Gentry that the two captains (Jared Dudley and Jermaine O’Neal) come off the bench, nor does it help that the oldest players (O’Neal and Luis Scola) do the same, nor that the two players with the most NBA experience (O’Neal and Telfair) are in the same position.

Either way it’s twisted, the leaders on the Suns aren’t the best players. And that’s not to say Gentry starting his younger players is wrong. It’s just a tough position to be in — the talent lies in the youth — and how Phoenix responds will be telling of if the younger players can buy into the grittiness that the bench brings. It’s a grittiness that to the eye must be found for the Suns to find respectability once again.

It’s still early in the season, and there are bound to be plenty more of these points in the year so long as the Suns don’t completely roll over.

That’s all that’ll be important tonight, win or lose.

Suns make money-back guarantee to fans

In a move that’s considered the first of it’s kind, the Phoenix Suns are offering fans a money-back guarantee for the Dec. 6 game against the Dallas Mavericks, reports ESPN’s Darren Rovell. It’s called “Satisfaction Guarantee Night” and first-year Suns President Jason Rowley told Rovell that fans will get their money back if they go home displeased.

Rowley said he was surprised to see so many happy fans after the Suns’ 112-106 overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls.

“After that game, I think we were all struck by the fact that so many people were leaving our building with a smile on their face,” Rowley, who took over as team president this summer. “Normally, when a team loses fans are down. But not with us. And that was an eye-opening moment.”

At first glance, this seems like a risky move. While that loss lent evidence that the revamped Suns could hang with a veteran team — taking punch for punch for the most part — the loss to Detroit was obviously the polar opposite.

And if you’d like to attend Satisfaction Guarantee Night, check out our contest with Crowd Seats that could earn you free tickets.

Three keys for Phoenix

Execute down the stretch. At this point, there’s not a soul in the universe who doesn’t think Phoenix can lose to any team, at any time, by any amount of points. The Raptors are 3-13, but NBA.com’s John Shuhmann pointed out that they aren’t as bad as their record indicates. Toronto has just the seventh-worst point differential and is 1-8 in games ending in differences of eight points or less. That says the Raptors can’t close games; the Suns will need to better them in that regard if they hope to pull it out.

Probably guard Andrea Bargnani. The Raptors’ big man sat out on Wednesday against the Memphis Grizzlies with an ankle sprain and is listed as questionable against the Suns. He finds himself as a key in the scouting report healthy or not, as Phoenix has had a terrible time defending big men who can stretch the floor, which is somewhat ironic considering their love for stretch big men. Whether it’s been Pau Gasol, Anderson Varejao or Chris Bosh, the Suns have yet to show much of an effort in defending such players. Bargnani is averaging 18 points per game and shooting 36 percent from three now playing alongside athletic center Jonas Valanciunas.

Get physical. Toronto’s roster oddly looks a lot like Phoenix’s. Mediocre talent, a relatively seamless talent gap between the starting unit and the bench players, and no star player. What the Suns do have is a front line that — as we’ve seen in spurts — can get at it on defense and on the boards. If they can’t dominate the Raptors up front, who can they dominate? The Raptors’ leading rebounder, after all, is point guard Kyle Lowry, who averages 5.9 a game.

Kevin Zimmerman is the lead blogger and editor for Valley of the Suns. He is also editor of AZDesertSwarm.com, an Arizona Wildcats\’ blog, and a contributor at SB Nation and Pac-12.com.

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Tags: Phoenix Suns · Phoenix Suns Preview · Toronto Raptors

8 responses so far ↓

  • 1 TucsonSunsFan // Nov 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    I hope the Suns can match up with Toronto’s athletic wing players (DeRozan and Ross). Lowry is athletic as well and should be a handful for Dragic to defend. I agree our frontcourt players will be key to any victory and here’s hoping Gortat can stop whining and play like he started the season playing.

  • 2 DBreezy // Nov 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    Looks like Bargnani is a go after their shoot around according to the Toronto Star. As painful as it can be to fans, the whole first portion of this article as well as Coro’s could be the word spoken of most deep lottery squads.

    Topically I get the idea this could be a critical turning point after the execution at the Palace, but turning point for what? Sure the Suns had rough starts the past two seasons, but got back in the playoff mix (still missing though). It’s hard to see that kind of potential with this squad though. They don’t have the leaders on the court or in the locker room that team did. Two very important players, Gortat and Scola, can’t play together putting extra pressure on Goran, Kieff, and the coaching staff.

    Then there’s the schedule. The Suns haven’t gotten fat on the easier portion of their schedule and the next few months aren’t pretty. By my count only 9 of the Suns next 30 games are vs 2012 lottery squads. Even if you discount Orlando post-Howard and post-Suns mauling, I included Brooklyn and Milwaukee as lottery teams, both of whom are having good seasons so far. I also included Minny which seems to be headed for the opposite of last season where they were healthy early but not late. They could be a load on the 2nd game of a road b2b in late Dec after Indiana and before the Thunder.

    I think most of us would have concerns about that schedule even if Nash and Hill were here, so how can you not with such a young, leaderless team of talent that doesn’t quite fit together on the floor? The only people this might be a turning point for are Gentry and Gortat. Marcin because if he can’t feast on yet another rookie center ahead of matchups with Tyson Chandler and Marc Gasol what are Babby/Blanks to think as trading season draws nigh? Gentry because as Guru once said, ‘Who’s gonna take the Weight?’

    I also see that Peaches is suiting up for the Raps tonight, how much money says he hits some big treys tonight just for Lance and Lon?

  • 3 Scott // Nov 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    The Raps recently fought the Spurs in a double-overtime game. The Raps lost, but clearly it was close.

    A team that can go toe-to-toe with the Spurs has a good chance of pasting this year’s Suns.

    On the bright side, if the Suns do get into garbage time we’ll have a chance to see how Garrett plays alongside Johnson and Zeller.

    BTW, in the last game, it seemed to me that Johnson was playing spectacularly poor defense. Am I mistaken, or did anyone else see this?

  • 4 Gortat Sux // Nov 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    KTAR DOUG & WOLF…

    WOLF: ARE YOU TALKIN TO ME?!! PHOENIX SUNS?! RE-SPECT THE DETROIT PISTONS WHOOPING YOU BY 40! RE-SPECT! THAT YOU HAVE A CHEAP OWNER WHO DOESN’T WANT TO SPEND MONEY TO PUT A GOOD PRODUCT ON THE FLOOR…YEAHHHH!

    DOUG: Speaking of which, our surprise guest this hour… Phoenix Suns VP of Basketball Ops Lon Babby joining us.

    WOLF: Proceed…

    (Later that segment)

    DOUG: Lon, thanks for joining us… Clearly a tough loss vs Detroit the other night, what if anything did you say to the team after the game?

    LON: Well I don’t know if I really should say anything, I wouldn’t wanna upset that screaming neanderthal in your studio there…

    (Laughter)

    LON: In all seriousness though, I told the team to continue to play with pride and perseverance. Obviously, it was a rough night, but we won’t panic after one bad game. I think between myself, Robert and Lance we still feel we did our due diligence and have put the franchise in a good position going forward to compete for championships. I felt we handled the blowout with the utmost respect and professionalism. And at the end of the day, you can’t ask for much more than that.

  • 5 DBreezy // Nov 30, 2012 at 3:13 pm

    @Scott,

    Yeah I watched that Spurs/Raps 2OT game. It was very entertaining, I thought they had it on a wide open Bargnani trey, but it Beasley-Ed in and out. The answer to your question on Wes is that he was ‘shooting’ for a new contract. All other considerations secondary. Crew expendable.

  • 6 Ty-Sun // Nov 30, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    I think the article meant that it was a turning point for Gentry rather than the team. Has Gentry “lost” the team? If they get trounced by the Raps then maybe so. It could be a sign that they’ve lost faith in him.

    Loss of faith in the head coach can destroy any team, especially one that is struggling. I like Gentry but I’m not sure he’s a good coach for a rebuilding team without a star or a real team leader.

    If the Suns play hard tonight – even if they lose the game – Gentry is probably safe. But if they have another game like the last one then I think Gentry’s days with the Suns may be numbered.

  • 7 Ty-Sun // Nov 30, 2012 at 3:53 pm

    Oddly enough, Popovich may have written Gentry’s last chapter as the Suns’ head coach. Look how close he came to winning a game against the World Champs last night with a team devoid of stars.

    I’m NOT saying that Gentry is the problem but if the team has lost faith in him perhaps a change is best.

  • 8 hawki // Nov 30, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    Dudley in the game down the stretch instead of Beasley ?
    I’ve been a supporter of Gentry but I think he’s losing his mind.

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